Database marketing touted for newspapers p. 22

By: Tony Case THE SERVICE, RETAIL and financial industries have, in the last decade, found database marketing to be invaluable. So why have so many newspapers, despite their curiosity about this revolutionary method of bringing in new customers and retaining existing ones, remained wary?
"There seems to me to be much mystery, misunderstanding, even confusion surrounding database marketing and its role in our industry," Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph database marketing manager Jeff Potts said at the recent Southern Newspaper Publishers Association convention in Colorado Springs. "Our gut instinct is that we need it, but many of us still don't know why."
Potts sees the goal of database marketing simply as recognizing one's best customers, rewarding them for their business and breeding customer loyalty.
He conceded that much of the blame for all the confusion about the computer-driven technique lies with practitioners such as himself, who are so involved with the technological aspects that they lose sight of the rewards of database marketing: building advertiser and reader loyalty, and increasing revenue.
Potts advised his fellow technophiles to concentrate as much attention on the end as they do the means.
"We, as database marketers, need to do a better job of selling newspaper publishers on the virtues of database marketing," he urged.
"I'm not suggesting that today's database marketing technology can recreate the kind of personal relationship that your mama had with the corner grocer; there's simply no substitute for that," added Potts. "But we can get a lot closer to our customers with database marketing."
Businesses have slipped up by taking their focus off the customer, Potts observed ? and newspapers are no exception.
"How many businesses can boast the fact that they have customers who have been with them for 25, 40, even 50 years?" he asked. "And, yet, we often treat the 25-year subscriber the same as the guy who's been with us for two months and runs a very high risk of canceling his subscription next week."
Potts thinks subscribers are smart enough to know newspapers take them for granted.
But, the marketing manager held, the customer really isn't all that unreasonable in his demands ? all he wants is a little recognition for his loyalty. And today, the way Potts sees it, database marketing is the only tool newspapers have to do that.
"You can't afford to be without it," he said.
"If your newspaper is losing ground in circulation and you not only want to know why but how to fix the problem, you need a marketing database. If your advertising revenue is shrinking, as competing media are taking an ever-bigger slice of the pie, you need a marketing database. And even if your circulation is growing along with advertising revenue . . . you still need a marketing database."
Newspapers that deny they should utilize the approach will continue to operate in the dark, not knowing who their best customers are, Potts maintained.
Database marketing may be trendy, but Denver Post database marketing and retention manager Jack Borland advised publishers not to get into it just because it's the thing to do.
"Don't think you can go back and start up database marketing tomorrow," he warned, suggesting that publishers very carefully map out a plan considering their expectations and the time frame in which they can realistically work toward these goals.
It's crucial that newspapers hire enough employees ? and ones who possess the necessary skills ? to effectively run a database marketing program, according to Borland.
"You're going to find that the more data you have, the more questions you're going to ask, and you're going to want to make sure you have people out there who can answer those questions, who can use the data and understand it," he said. "Otherwise, you're just going to have a fancy computer sitting on someone's desk, churning out lists of prospective people to call."
Borland suggested that database marketing ? despite the hoopla ? is only a piece of the puzzle that publishers must put together in order to get a clear picture of how to grow the business.
"We still need to make sure our service is good, that our value to the subscriber is good and that our product is meaningful," he said. "Database marketing is only a tool ? it's not the end all."
It's crucial that newspapers hire enough employees ? and ones who possess the necessary skills ? to effectively run a database marketing program, according to Borland.


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